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Understanding Virtue and Virtue Development in the Context of Heritability Information

John Templeton Foundation
University of Virginia subcontract GF13361-156551
Administered in: College of the Liberal Arts

Abstract:

Parents’ beliefs about heritability, regardless of how well they accord with scientific understanding, may affect the ways parents interact with children and how children develop. We will examine both philosophical and empirical aspects of this issue with an emphasis on the development of virtuous character. First, we will address the philosophical question of whether certain ways of reasoning about virtue may be more advantageous for virtue development. We will argue that it may be advantageous for parents to conceptualize virtues as skills, rather than dispositions, to facilitate virtue development in their children. Next, we will address the scientific question of how parents’ beliefs about the heritability of virtuous characteristics can affect their reasoning about virtue, parent-child interactions, and child virtue development. We will explore existing data and conduct a review of psychological theory and research relevant to this issue. We will also implement an empirical study to test how parents’ beliefs about the heritability of virtuous characteristics relates to their parenting behaviors and virtuous character in their adolescent children. This collaborative and interdisciplinary project will cover substantial philosophical, theoretical, and empirical ground by building upon the expertise of a social psychologist, a philosopher, a developmental psychologist, and a behavioral geneticist. The work will generate a formal philosophical review paper, a formal psychological review paper, and two empirical articles testing hypotheses derived from our theoretical work. The project will advance knowledge about virtue development in the context of genetic heritability information and will provide key training experience to junior scholars.